Quite a lot has happened this week. Two hops along the coast and one decision made. Wow! You see, that’s what equates to ‘quite a lot’ when you aren’t swapping a large proportion of your life for money. Earlier today I was walking Max along the beach and I stopped to look out to sea. It was so beautiful that I sat down and just stared out for about twenty minutes. It was simply just how I chose to spend my time. To me, being able to do that still feels like a real treat but it shouldn’t really feel like that should it? It’s just that normal life gets in the way and to have the luxury of sitting down and taking in a view for as long as you feel like is just one of the many very simple but very rewarding experiences that this trip has given me.
We all know there is a beautiful world out there but what a lovely thing it is to simply have the time to sit down and appreciate it. It’s the nuts!
I left Wells as planned early last Wednesday morning. I never really feel nervous or anxious when I go to bed before an early departure but I also never sleep well either. I went to bed at 9pm but at best I got a couple of hours of shut eye before my alarm went off at ten past three in the morning. Despite my best efforts, for most of the night I just couldn’t stop tossing. I turned a lot too.
One look outside told me what I had previously suspected. It was dark.
Who’s a clever boy then Mark?
No, I don’t mean that in the stating the obvious way, I mean it in the way that sometimes it is dark but you can still see quite a lot once your eyes adjust but dark can also be a complete enveloping blackness in which you really can’t see a bloody thing!
I’m going to call that dark dark. Dark dark meant that I couldn’t see the first channel marker although I knew it was only about 100 meters away from the boat. This meant that I had no chance of seeing any part of the channel or get any visual clue as to which way it meandered off into the night.
I knew I’d be nervous at this moment. The sand bar was about a mile and a half away but before I even left the pontoon I could hear the waves crashing onto it in the stillness of the early morning. These are the times when I would like to have someone on the foredeck with a big torch to pick out the buoys. Instead, I have to hold the big torch and steer and just when you start to feel like your eyes might be getting used to the dark you inadvertently shine the torch on a piece of rigging, the mast or the white fibreglass of the boat and you are instantly blinded again by the light reflecting back!
As I said in my last blog, I put total trust in the chart plotter and followed my breadcrumb trail out. This isn’t a ‘take brain out’ solution though because I would say that the margin for error on the breadcrumb trail is probably 20 feet either side before the chart plotter will show you that you are off course so I still had plenty of chances to crap myself as I shone the torch onto the sand banks, just brushed the top of one with one keel and changed my mind and reversed when I realised that what I had thought was a port hand marker was actually a red mooring buoy sitting about 5 feet away from the sandy edge of the water. Once I was out in the main channel the surf that was breaking over the bar was rolling down each side of Fiesta and I became fixated on the depth sounder which in fact showed a least depth over the bar of 5ft. I draw 3ft so at that time there was reasonable clearance underneath and the harbour master’s advice regarding the latest possible time I could leave was spot. Any later would have been a little too close for comfort especially with the surf running in there. It was tense until I got to a marker that sits in clear deep water and at that point I knew I was out and safely over the sand bar. By this time it was just before 5am and I know this probably isn’t the right thing to admit but had I have had any whisky onboard I would have had one there and then. It was such a relief to be out and clear!
There was a lovely little breeze and I sat on the foredeck with a coffee (in leu of whisky) and watched the sunrise. Those moments are sheer magic to me. We all love sunsets but what makes the sunrise feel just a little more special to me is that you know there aren’t as many people watching it. It feels like a cheekily stolen moment!
The trip to Lowestoft was 53 miles and I was glad of my onesie, hat, gloves, thermals, hand warmers and foot warmers. It was a very cold day out there but I made it to Lowestoft with plenty of daylight to spare and was in at 3pm. I stayed at the Royal Norfolk & Suffolk Yacht Club marina which has managed to achieve something surprising. Lowestoft has everything that you need by way of shops, pubs and restaurants but it’s just a bit too seasidey, a bit too scummy and a little run down for my liking. Sorry for sounding like a complete snob, but it is what it is and what it is is a bit of a sh*t hole! Not to the same extent that Dover is, oh no! Dover is in a totally different league of swamp altogether. It’s just that Lowestoft looks at it’s best when you stand on the beach and look out to sea. Then, it is beautiful.
What the Royal Norfolk and Suffolk Yacht club have managed to achieve is that despite the amusement arcade and the imitation of a Las Vegas’s lit fountain accompanied by superman music which backs on to the yacht club, as soon as you go through their gate you enter an oasis of calm. I don’t know how they have managed this but following a walk around it was great escape the candy floss, fish & chips and cans of tenants super.
Lowestoft does have one ace up it’s sleeve though. The hidden gem is the fact that a mile or so behind the beach sits Oulton Broad, the gateway to one of the most beautiful places that I have had the pleasure of spending time in. The Norfolk Broads! My old man learnt to sail on the Broads. His Dad, who I never met, was a proper snob. Apparately he used to say ‘The great thing about boating on the Norfolk Broads is that only the upper classes can afford it’! What a cracker!
Well the good news (look at me being politically correct) is that plenty of people can now afford it so lots of people get to enjoy it’s beauty, peace and tranquility. No, actually that’s not true. It is now only beautiful, peaceful and tranquil outside of school holidays! Oulton Broad is but a short walk from Lowestoft and I think getting there from the town centre is much like that clumsy b*tch Lucy who fell through the back of her wardrobe into a new secret land only this isn’t Narnia but the Norfolk Broads. You don’t really notice anything change until all of a sudden the traffic sounds disappear along with any hint of the sea and all of a sudden it’s ducks, swans and willow trees hanging down into the water and a view of the broads snaking off inland.
I found a lovely seat looking out over the water as far away from anyone as I could be and did what I am now quite good at. I sat down, looked out at the world in front of me and let time tick past without a care in the world.
I did actually have something to think hard about too. Something has been playing on my mind lately and whilst I had almost made up my mind previously, it didn’t need to be final until I reached Lowestoft. Lowestoft was always the place I was going to leave from to sail across to Holland because being the eastern most town of the UK, it is the shortest distance across to Ijmuiden which is at the entrance of the canal that leads to Amsterdam.
When I first cooked up the idea of a round Britain sail I decided to add Amsterdam on the end because anything south of Lowestoft is familiar water for me and I thought I might feel a little disappointed about nearing the end of the trip. I also love Amsterdam and thought this would be a great way to round off the trip.
However, for the last month or so I have been reading about the so called storm making factory in the Atlantic which I mentioned in my last bog. Some meteorologists are suggesting that we are in for a fairly harsh winter with storms a plenty being hurled our way. Having had so many hard blows over the last couple of months and with plenty more being predicted I have decided that discretion is the better part of valour and instead I am going to take the shelter offered by this coast and enjoy being in familiar waters for the rest of the trip.
This might not sound particularly heroic and I am disappointed not to be putting Amsterdam on the list but then again, I think it’s important to know when to go for it and when not to and in leu of how unsettled the weather has been lately the last thing I want to do is to sour the end of this trip by risking a bashing to Fiesta and her crew from a winter gale while going over to or coming back from Holland.
Once that decision was made I immediately became excited about steering Fiesta back towards her home coast and with a suitable looking weather forecast I left Lowestoft yesterday lunchtime bound for my favourite east coast river of them all. The River Deben. It was 35 miles from Lowestoft to the River Deben which has a fairly notorious entrance once again because of a continually shifting sand bar. What’s more, the tide dictated that I would have to leave Lowestoft at 2am to make it into the Deben on the morning high tide and therefore in daylight. However, I really didn’t want a 2am start so I elected to leave Lowestoft at midday and take the late afternoon tide down the coast into the Deben although this meant an entry in darkness.
I spoke to the harbour master in advance to get the most up to date position of the four buoys that mark the entrance. The first buoy is a safe water mark which is lit. This is great because you can aim for it and get yourself to a deep, safe and confirmed position on the chart and then make your approach to the other three buoys through the tight, very tidal and very shallow entrance. These buoys are not lit and the tide sweeps you in so fast that you really don’t have the time to be trying to spot them in the dark so to know their exact longitude and latitude and the compass bearing from one to the other is the way to navigate through there safely at night. What was an excellent back up and a way to confirm their positions was to have the radar on. This way I could mark their positions the chart from the longitudes and latitudes given to me by the harbour master and the radar confirmed their positions by showing a clear blip on the radar screen so I was able to push through with confidence despite the closeness of the sand banks one side and the beach the other.
Arriving at the safe water mark outside the entrance marked Fiesta’s return to familiar waters. I will admit to letting out a loud whoop and whilst I appreciate that an uncontrolled show of emotion isn’t very British of me, I was simply and suddenly overtaken by excitement at being back in home waters and the feeling of familiarity was incredible. Every single place I have visited since leaving Eastbourne has meant a brand new and unfamiliar destination for me but to know what lies around each headland, any bend in a river or inside any harbour feels weirdly fantastic and very welcome.
I’m chuffed to be here!
So hear I am! Back on the Magical East Coast! This means I can fully reacquaint myself with this beautiful little corner of Britain and although only 40 miles or so from the River Crouch, I intend to fully explore and enjoy the River Deben and the River Orwell and plan to eek this out for another 5 or 6 weeks so my return to the River Crouch is still planned for early December despite missing Amsterdam.
The obvious bonus is that by missing Amsterdam I do at least have a chance of remembering the next six weeks rather than returning to the UK, post Amsterdam, paranoid and scratching!!
For now, I am swinging around my anchor in the River Deben and it’s bliss. Another wild Friday night lies ahead!
Lovely sunrise as I sailed east along the north Norfolk coast
Just behind all delights of a seaside town you can find yourself in a new world that is the Norfolk Broads and in the park you will find some brave little squirrels that fear no man!
Lovely sunset over the Royal Norfolk & Suffolk Yacht Club and Fiesta tucked into their marina
A customer coming into the Deben on the early tide this morning.
Bawdsey Manor in the background which was RAF Bawdsey in WW2 and a view looking into the Deben from the entrance
A few views along the seawall. I love this river!